Born on April 30, 1948, Wayne Kramer became famous, while still in his teens, as a co-founder and guitarist of the Detroit rock group MC5, a group that roared out of the 1960s with their powerful live concerts. Fueled by the twin guitars of Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, their supercharged rock ’n’ roll was a mix of garage, R&B, with a good measure of psychedelia and Sun Ra. This sound was beyond the contemporary boundaries of volume and furore. The MC5 were also known for their radical left-wing political positions and were one of the few bands of their time to talk the talk and walk the walk. For instance, they performed on the Grant Park stage in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention and managed to run away just a few moments before the Chicago police broke through the crowd.
Given their anti-establishment stance, it might sound weird that Kramer’s most iconic guitar is the “Stars and Stripes” Stratocaster. However, as Kramer explained upon the Fender’s release in 2011 of a heavy relic’d Signature Series model (complete with the “This tool kills hate” neckplate), “When I painted the guitar with this motif it was really to claim my patriotism in spite of what the country was doing at the time.”
The band performance style was definitely a part of the equation. “The MC5’s performance was on all levels,” Kramer said. “I had clothes made up out of these exotic materials and the rest of the people in the band did as well, and I thought maybe the guitar itself could be part of this, kind of, total assault on the culture.”
The only thing that is known of his first guitar is that it was a CBSera instrument and probably was fairly new when Kramer bought it. Likely, it had the humbucker installed in the middle position to support the MC5’s balls-out sonic assault. Then, Kramer also played Epiphones and Gibsons with the MC5. Nevertheless, Kramer was playing the Stars and Stripes Strat on the evenings of October 30 and 31, 1968, when the MC5 recorded the incendiary performances at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom that became the touchstone proto-punk LP Kick Out the Jams.
The MC5 disbanded in 1972 and Kramer spent the following years carrying out illegal activities, which were the consequences of his drug addiction. In 1975, Kramer was caught selling cocaine to an undercover agent and had to spend two years in federal prison; this incident was immortalized in The Clash’s song “Jail Guitar Doors”. Upon release, he moved to New York where he briefly played with Johnny Thunders in the Gang War band. Then, he enjoyed a solo career and worked as a television and film producer and composer. Over the years, he and surviving MC5 members have joined together to play with The Cult, Motorhead, Mudhoney and other bands that they have influenced. Kramer has kept spreading his political views through music and by collaborating with Jail Guitar Doors, a nonprofit organisation that provides musical instruments to prisoners in the United States and Great Britain.